What I’m Hearing: Josh Peter was on hand to see LeBron James pass Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and he tells us what he heard from fans and James himself.
There will be more nights like Wednesday for LeBron James.
More milestones to scale. More NBA legends to pass. More accolades and well-wishes to receive.
But what if those moments, those special timeless moments, are all that there is for James for the rest of his career?
And what if all them are exactly like Wednesday’s, which was a masterpiece in proving that something can be deeply satisfying and incredibly unsatisfactory, all at the same time?
James achieved something truly extraordinary – passing Michael Jordan on the NBA’s career points list – at the tail end of a season that has been painful. He did so with a lay-up and resulting free throw that cut the deficit against the Denver Nuggets to 15 points in a game where, even in the second quarter, it was clear there were destined to lose. They did, again, leaving the Lakers in 11th in the Western Conference with the playoffs looking bleak.
What if this is what it is from now on? After eight years of contending for championships – winning three. What’s left of James’ career?
There is a common assumption that the Lakers will be better next season, that this year was a transition and that happier times are on the horizon.
But what if the Lakers’ aren’t better, they’re just different?
There will be additions. There will be a stronger squad, in theory at least. Certainly it will contain more star power, though that doesn’t automatically equate to success. Anthony Davis might eventually suit up in purple and gold. Kevin Durant won’t but there is a minimal chance that Kyrie Irving does, or maybe Kawhi Leonard has a change of heart, or Jimmy Butler or Khris Middleton has their head turned by the Lakers lure.
Instant championship contender, right?
Maybe, and maybe not. We have seen this story before, right here, and it didn’t have a Hollywood ending.
What if it turns out like the 2012-13 Lakers did for Kobe Bryant. It was all but written that the Lakers team that season would not only be a contender, but that it would take something extraordinary to stop them from claiming a title. Pau Gasol was still in place alongside Bryant, and two more superstars in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were added to the piece. Metta World Peace rounded out the intended starting line-up.
PETER: MJ is still the GOAT
LEBRON: ‘I wanted to be like MJ’
It didn’t work out.
Bryant fought to get them into the playoff hunt and then tore his Achilles in the 80th game before the team was swept in the postseason’s first round.
One thing is for sure, if James stays healthy he will clamber into the record books plenty more times. Barring mishap, he will go past Bryant on total points next season, which would spark more emotional scenes, especially if it happens at Staples. Further down the line he will get past Karl Malone – another former Laker, albeit briefly – and later into the four-year contract he’ll get a crack at list-leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
What a weighty moment that would be, not only claiming the title as the top scorer in league history, but leapfrogging a cultural icon.
Some of James’ historic moves will be worthy of a mention on the broadcast, nothing more. Some will be juicy enough to be flashed on the scoreboard, and some, like Wednesday night’s will justify a mass wave of hoopla.
In assists, James he could get past Magic Johnson over the course of his Lakers contract and reach high as third overall, although Chris Paul’s continued health and productivity may influence that.
He will surely pass Jordan for field goals made, then Wilt Chamberlain then Malone. He will rise up the ranks of total minutes played and add to his collection of All-Star appearances.
Thank you! You’re almost signed up for
Keep an eye out for an email to confirm your newsletter registration.
And maybe, if things culminate in a perfect storm, those moments will play out amid a serendipitous backdrop. Maybe the basket that surpasses Bryant puts the Lakers top of the West and establishes them as a force to be reckoned with in 2019-20. Maybe his assists mark comes with an alley-oop to Davis, and then they laugh about all the nonsensical saga that went before it. Maybe his assists tally passes Magic on the night when a second straight championship banner is hoisted to the rafters.
But maybe it doesn’t. James’ greatness is secure but his past accomplishments carry no equity moving forward as Los Angeles’ front office faces an almighty task in building a team that might help him add more rings to his haul of three.
Maybe the biggest nights for him from now on don’t end with confetti streaming from the ceiling, but with video tributes and standing ovations.
Maybe he’s okay with that, but knowing his competitive streak, maybe he’s not.